In the extremity of this strange duel in the dark he has forgotten that he does not stand a single man; he is the state; all depends upon him; and yet the affection of the woman who worships him is bound up with the very life of his inveterate enemy. He has come to the parting of the ways. Where shall he turn? What shall he do? His opponent forces him to more and more fearful measures. How far has he departed from the path he originally marked out for himself! He must decide on action; against his very will he must decide. He has no illusions as to what he is doing:
"diseases desperate grown
By desperate appliance are relieved, Or not at all."
(IV, iii, 9-11)
He makes his great decision, and it is wrong. He decides that Hamlet must die. It is the second great crisis of his life, but unlike the first, this is not wholly of his choosing. It is the old story of the ineluctibility of evil:
"Howe 'er my haps, my joys were ne 'er begun."
(IV, iii, 68)
He can not perform the penance he had planned. When Hamlet is at length out of the country, the king accordingly looks around him. All that he had dreamed on is quite, quite o 'erthrown:
"0 Gertrude, Gertrude,
When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions! First, her father slain:
Next, your son gone: and he most violent author
Of his own just remove: the people muddied,
Thick and unwholesome in their thoughts and whispers,
For good Polonius ' death; and we have done but greenly
In hugger-mugger to inter him; poor Ophelia
Divided from herself and her fair judgement,"
(IV, V, 74-82)
and the country, under the leadership of Laertes, is rushing to rebellion. In the accents of despair he conclud...
... middle of paper ...
...t is for Hamlet a low infatuation, and in the conflict the queen like all the rest goes down to destruction. The torment of Cladius is subjective and individual, and while it so remains Denmark is saved. The conscience of Hamlet goes out from him like a destroying angel, blasting all it touches — Ophelia, Gertrude, Polonius, Guildenstern, Rosencrantz, Laertes, Denmark itself. Strange play and stranger paradoxes!
The opposing forces are evenly matched, the duel is breathless, the question is not resolved until 82 lines before the end of the drama! And yet of this intense and breathless tragedy, so admirably illustrative of Brunetiere 's law of the drama, our actors continue to make a dramatic poem in five acts, in which the hero, for want of an opponent worthy of him, wanders about the stage uttering soliloquies and indulging in pleasantry with the minor characters!
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